I haven't been to a museum in two years. I often scroll back through my photos to relive my last time in a gallery, just two weeks before the world shutdown. With things starting to look up and quite frankly being tired of worrying about every outing, when I heard Van Gogh would be in Boston around my birthday I knew it would be the perfect way to ease back into museums.
The Van Gogh Immersive Experience has been on my mind for years since it was first created. My parents had the change to see it in France and marveled at how it was done. With the show's popularity, you may find that your city has more than one location, as Boston did. Our tickets took us to the Strand Theater location in Dorchester. Meticulously timed tickets and limited entries creates a semblance of safety (and vaccination proof is required at the door).
The exhibition begins with an overview of Van Gogh's life and work. From the start, his works are projected on the walls and spotlighted like they would be in a real museum. You learn about his influences, his choice between a religious life or the life of a painter, the depression he battled and the relationships he enjoyed with friends and most importantly, his brother Theo.
One screen displayed a video discussing Van Gogh's colorways. According to the researcher narrating the video, they believe Van Gogh was colorblind. As an art historian who has studied Van Gogh this was shocking to me. And quite frankly the implausibility left me incredibly skeptical about what lay ahead of us. *I've talked to several others who saw the immersive in different cities and none of them experienced this. I'm not sure if Boston partnered with local researchers or where this came from but it was jarring. Van Gogh's interesting and at times strange use of colors doesn't equate to him being colorblind. Quite the opposite, it points to someone who was very aware of color and how its use affects a viewer.
Once you've wound your way through the gallery-esque displays — given we were at a performing arts theater, we were literally winding our way through a series of rooms in the basement of the theater that likely look more like dressing rooms and practice spaces than the faux-black draped gallery walls we saw — you then come to the main event. The immersive experience.
Similarly monitored for capacity, an attendant confirmed our group number and then led us inside once a space opened up. We slipped through the curtains into a room filled with projected images. Dozens of carpets were placed on the floor marking where groups should sit and chairs lined all four walls.
We took our seats on our carpet and looked up.
Having dreamed about this experience for so long and how it would feel being immersed in Van Gogh's work, I have to say I was somewhat let down. Whether it was due to pandemic restrictions in Boston or constraints of the theater's architectural design, I had never expected to see the real ceiling — breaking the infinite image projections.
But the dynamic projections. I could easily have sat for hours watching them shift and morph into each other.
As you can see, my experience wasn't quite what I had expected. I definitely recommend the experience to anyone who hasn't seen it, but I'd caution you to research the venue hosting it and if it might impinge on your expectations.